The Gift of Age

43 is not old. Not in most everyday situations I find myself in. I can walk, talk, think, and move around this world every bit as good as I did in my 20’s. In some areas of my life though 43 is old. In the realm of athletics I can’t think of many sports where 43 isn’t over the hill. BJJ really is no exception. I hear all the time “age is just a number.” Well, that’s true but we have to acknowledge that things are different at 43 than they were at 23. Doesn’t mean I can’t be competitive or roll very well with young guys. I still can thankfully. To say that nothing has to change as you age is the same mistake as saying that everything changes. You have to acknowledge the truth of what is and deal with it.

Gas Tank

If I were to use cars as an analogy I have a smaller gas tank than I did when I was 23. Not only is my tank smaller but it takes longer to fill it back up. My top end speed is a bit slower. Not much, but I don’t win some scrambles that I used to be able to win easily. I find that I have to acknowledge these things in order to be able to be competitive at my age. Young guys, even those in mediocre condition, just have a larger tank. They also recover really fast when they gas out. They can actually recover mid roll if the action slows enough. I can’t do that anymore. I have to really conserve my gas and work on improving my mileage. If I run out of gas I’m done. There is no recovery. I have to pack it in for the roll.

Breathe!

One new thing that I do now when I roll is check my breathing. Usually a couple of minutes into a roll I purposely check my breathing against my partners. If I’m breathing heavier I’m in trouble. Doesn’t matter what the position. I have to immediately put myself in a position where I can conserve energy and let my breathing catch up. I have to prioritize this as much as I prioritize position and posture. In fact, I’ll give up position at times to get to a spot where I can recover my breathing if I need to.

Strength

I don’t use a lot of strength anymore. If I find myself straining to apply a sub or an escape I’ll just bail on it. Not because I’m lazy but because I don’t have the ability to recover from that level of energy exertion that I used to have. Escapes that take huge bursts of energy aren’t going to happen. I don’t have the energy reserves to scramble effectively after that level of energy loss. Same goes with subs. If that triangle choke isn’t going on I won’t bear down with great force anymore. If I fatigue my legs trying to put on a choke I won’t have anything left if it doesn’t work. Just can’t do it.

Speed

I don’t initiate scrambles anymore. I tend to not win those. If we are both moving fast for position I feel like my body is going in slow motion. My brain is telling it to move fast but it’s not responding like it used to. It’s a strange feeling when you are used to your body moving at a certain speed and it just doesn’t anymore.

How is all this a gift?

I’ll tell you. It has improved my game tremendously. I’m a better grappler today because of my age related restrictions. I tell myself all the time now “It’s OK just rely on your Jiu Jitsu.” It’s a profound experience for me. A spiritual experience of sorts. I surrender to Jiu Jitsu and let it take care of the situation. I no longer have to push Jiu Jitsu out of the way and use strength, or speed, or force of will. Those things don’t work like they used to. All I have left is Jiu Jitsu. In the end I’m left with a greater appreciation for the art that I love. Over and over again I’m faced with a younger, stronger, heavier, more athletic partner and all I have to bring to the table is Jiu Jitsu. I trust it to take care of me. Over and over again I’m amazed at how well it does.

It doesn’t get me more taps or make me more dominant. I lose some battles that I used to win. Thankfully though my understanding and improvement in Jiu Jitsu is outpacing my decline in physical attributes. I do anticipate that there will be a day when that will no longer be true. When that day comes I’ll be even more grateful for this art. It’ll be all I have. But it will be plenty.

9 Comments

    • 47 year old female blue belt here… Thank you for the words of wisdom. My Jiu Jitsu isn’t as strong as yours yet, but it is starting to take good care of me.

      I often beat myself up about not doing well enough against the young guys. Thanks for putting things in perspective – I thought it was just me being unusually decrepit and slow ;-).

      I’m so glad your blog is back up, you write so much good stuff! I’ll link to your post from my blog.

  1. “I have to immediately put myself in a position where I can conserve energy and let my breathing catch up. I have to prioritize this as much as I prioritize position and posture.”

    Putting this into play tomorrow. I started at 30 with no athletic background, so I’m always at a big disadvantage on multiple levels. Great post.

    • Hi Tim,
      I do not do anything else for cardio. I know it would be a good idea. I just haven’t carved out any time for it in my schedule. And frankly I’d rather be rolling than doing any of that. When I get more free time I spend it in the gym rolling. I don’t advocate that as a path but it’s what I do. I suspect that if I really worked hard on my cardio I’d not feel the effects of age quite as much. Just won’t happen right now though.

  2. There certainly are joys to BJJ over 40. Even if it is simply the comfort of living in a body for a long period of time. I find that some of the younger guys I roll with don’t have that comfort, and it is a disadvantage.

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